I could be pissed off now if I allowed myself to be. Finally, we get a sun-drenched, late October day, variegated leaves gleaming on the trees before their fall to oblivion, and it’s the afternoon for which I’ve been waiting for two years—the first session of the five-week lifelong learning class, Best Short Stories of 2014. Having completed the pleasant walk after class from the Cathedral of Learning across the bridge past Phipps Conservatory and around the bend into Schenley Park, where I had decided to try out the economy parking at just $1 an hour, the two burnt autumn leaves on my windshield point to the white parking ticket tucked neatly under the wiper blade.
My failure to notice that I had pulled in on the wrong side of a ‘no parking’ sign will cost me $55.50. In my defense, I should point out that the ‘no parking’ sign is vertically wedged between two other signs—in cluttery fashion—that reference the paid parking area monitored by the economy parking machines that allow patrons to park at half the cost of machines positioned closer to campus. I was so energized by my virginal experience with the economy parking zone that the ‘no parking’ sign simply had not registered in my brain. I see it clearly now.
When I had inadvertently and illegally parked here three hours earlier, I was bursting inside to talk about one of two stories on the agenda for today’s class, “After the Flood,” by Peter Cameron. A sadder piece of literature I had not read until this past dreary Monday morning. In Cameron’s story the reader is treated to an intimate glimpse of a retired couple, the Evarts, living hollow lives following an unthinkable family tragedy. A proactive, do-gooder reverend, Reverend Judy, is not well-liked by the wife/narrator of the story. The reverend makes a bold proposal to the Evarts that she believes might help the couple, and this sets in motion a fascinating series of events as we gradually learn more about the source and nature of their grief.
Based on our class discussion, some readers may have been disappointed, if not frustrated, by the ending of the story. I was not disappointed, but so deeply saddened that I had to reflect until I could find some source of comfort. I believe that there is an element of sacrifice and nobility in the wife/narrator’s ultimate and somewhat puzzling decision to accommodate her husband at the end of the story.
The beauty of sadness is a theme that fascinates me, and I continue to search for ways to explore that theme in my own attempts to write and in the literature that I read. In his story Peter Cameron opens a door to darkness and treats his readers to the most beautifully painful drama of two characters fumbling their way through unimaginable pain.
I do wonder about the meter maid or meter man who issued my parking ticket today. My violation may have meant nothing more to him/her than fulfilling a required monthly quota. Surely my little wagon was not blocking any movement of traffic on this quiet and spacious lane in the park. Perhaps this was a by-the-book kind of guy or gal who can make clear cut decisions based solely on the law. Besides, he or she could not have known how much Peter Cameron’s story thrilled me and compelled me to overlook the ‘no parking’ sign after driving 40 miles to convene with others who may have similar passions.
I won’t let one little parking ticket bring down my week. I won’t hyperventilate over one more petty annoyance in the daily ebb and flow. I will write the check to the parking authority as I remember Peter Cameron’s breathtaking story. I’ll save my crying for the things that really matter.
© Dave Knoepfle